No doubt this sort of thing goes down well at meetings of the faithful, and enables him and them to feel good. But there is little point in setting an example, at great cost, if no one is going to follow it; and around the world governments are now gradually watering down or even abandoning their decarbonization ambitions. Indeed, it is even worse than that. Since the U.K. has abandoned the idea of having an energy policy in favor of having a decarbonization policy, there is a growing risk that, before very long, our generating capacity will be inadequate to meet our energy needs. If so, we shall be setting an example all right: an example of what not to do.
So how is it that much of the Western world, and this country in particular, has succumbed to the self-harming collective madness that is climate-change orthodoxy? It is difficult to escape the conclusion that climate-change orthodoxy has in effect become a substitute religion, attended by all the intolerant zealotry that has so often marred religion in the past, and in some places still does so today.
Throughout the Western world, the two creeds that used to vie for popular support, Christianity and the atheistic belief system of Communism, are each clearly in decline. Yet people still feel the need both for the comfort and for the transcendent values that religion can provide. It is the quasi-religion of green alarmism and global salvationism, of which the climate-change dogma is the prime example, that has filled the vacuum, with reasoned questioning of its mantras regarded as little short of sacrilege.
The parallel goes deeper. As I mentioned earlier, throughout the ages the weather has been an important part of the religious narrative. In primitive societies it was customary for extreme-weather events to be explained as punishment from the gods for the sins of the people; and there is no shortage of this theme in the Bible, either — particularly, but not exclusively, in the Old Testament. The contemporary version of this is that, as a result of heedless industrialization within a framework of materialistic capitalism, we have directly (albeit not deliberately) perverted the weather, and will duly receive our comeuppance.
There is another aspect, too, that may account for the appeal of this so-called explanation. Throughout the ages, something deep in man’s psyche has made him receptive to apocalyptic warnings that the end of the world is nigh. And almost all of us, whether we like it or not, are imbued with feelings of guilt and a sense of sin. How much less uncomfortable it is, how much more convenient, to divert attention away from our individual sins and reasons to feel guilty, and to sublimate them in collective guilt and collective sin.
Why does this matter? It matters, and matters a great deal, on two quite separate grounds. The first is that it has gone a long way towards ushering in a new age of unreason. It is a cruel irony that, while it was science which, more than anything else, was able by its great achievements to establish the age of reason, it is all too many climate scientists and their hangers-on who have become the high priests of a new age of unreason.
But what moves me most is that the policies invoked in its name are grossly immoral. We have, in the U.K., devised the most blatant transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich — and I am slightly surprised that it is so strongly supported by those who consider themselves to be the tribunes of the people and politically on the left. I refer to our system of heavily subsidizing wealthy landlords to have wind farms on their land, so that the poor can be supplied with one of the most expensive forms of electricity known to man.
This is also, of course, inflicting increasing damage on the British economy, to no useful purpose whatever. More serious morally, because it is on a much larger scale, is the perverse intergenerational transfer of wealth implied by orthodox climate-change policies. It is not much in dispute that future generations — those yet unborn — will be far wealthier than those — ourselves, our children, and for many of us our grandchildren — alive today. This is the inevitable consequence of the projected economic growth that, on a “business as usual” basis, drives the increased carbon emissions that in turn determine the projected future warming. It is surely perverse that those alive today should be told that they must impoverish themselves, by abandoning what is far and away the cheapest source of energy, in order to ensure that those yet to be born, who will in any case be signally better off than they are, will be better off still, by escaping the disadvantages of any warming that might occur.
However, the greatest immorality of all concerns the masses in the developing world. It is excellent that, in so many parts of the developing world — the so-called emerging economies — economic growth is now firmly on the march, as they belatedly put in place the sort of economic-policy framework that brought prosperity to the Western world. Inevitably, they already account for, and will increasingly account for, the lion’s share of global carbon emissions.
But, despite their success, there are still hundreds of millions of people in these countries in dire poverty, suffering all the ills that this brings, in terms of malnutrition, preventable disease, and premature death. Asking these countries to abandon the cheapest available sources of energy is, at the very least, asking them to delay the conquest of malnutrition, to perpetuate the incidence of preventable disease, and to increase the numbers of premature deaths.
Global-warming orthodoxy is not merely irrational. It is wicked.
— Nigel Lawson is a member of the U.K. House of Lords and chairman of the Global Warming Policy Foundation. This essay is based on the text of a speech given to the Institute for Sustainable Energy and the Environment at the University of Bath.